2017-12-21 / Front Page

Middletown Schools Stick with Snow Days

By Christopher Allen

Middletown students hoping for days of sledding and snowballs this winter can breathe a sigh of relief, for now.

During its final 2017 meeting, on Dec. 14, the Middletown School Committee decided to shelve talks of implementing Virtual Instructional Day Guidance from Rhode Island’s Department of Education (RIDE).

This past July, Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law legislation to allow school districts to replace the current model of making up snow days at year’s end with virtual learning via the internet. The state assembly directed RIDE to issue guidance to school districts that wish to convert to a so-called “blizzard-bags” policy, whereby students take home assignments the day before a storm to complete in conjunction with virtual instruction.

Under the new law, students would not be required to complete snow-day assignments on that particular day, but could do so any other non-school day before the end of the year. Currently, all school days canceled due to weather or emergency must be made up in June, and public schools must complete 180 days of instruction per year. In Middletown, three snow days each year are built into the academic calendar.

Committee member Theresa Spengler pointed out the jurisdictional leeway school districts have to provide education according to local needs. The new legislation stipulates that participation in the virtual learning program is voluntary. “We’ll see what other districts come up with,” Spengler said. “If this becomes a requirement, [we can] come up with an alternative.”

Skeptics of the new initiative are concerned with the perceived need to fix a problem where none exists.

Committee members wondered whether Middletown would even qualify for the new initiative, which is being implemented by the state and requires certain criteria, including evidence that district applicants can ensure universal student access, agreements from all stakeholders, and adequate technical assistance during virtual instruction days, among other requirements.

“We don’t feel that we would fully meet the criteria,” said Assistant Superintendent Linda Savastano. “We would be lacking in some areas.”

Savastano said that entry into the program is governed by a rubric, or a set of expectations, that allows a maximum of three virtual-instruction school days per year.

Members also lamented the loss of the social benefits of snow days for students, despite the challenges for parents and caregivers. “What’s wrong with kids playing in the snow?” asked Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger. “Having a snow day is not a bad idea.”

In Other News: 

Facilities director David Fontes reported to the committee that, although the $10 million bond issue to improve school facilities is moving along successfully, more funding is necessary to tackle all of the district needs. Fontes said the bond did not cover many of the lower-priority items during the 2016 discussions, including, among others, sewer backflow preventers and a new chiller to help regulate temperatures at Gaudet Middle School. “I don’t want to press a panic button,” Fontes said. “[But] it’s not enough funds. I’m a big believer that [additional upgrades] should be isolated.”

The committee formally recognized the Middletown High School 2017 girls’ state tennis champions. The Division III squad beat North Providence 4-3 in what was Middletown girls tennis’ third title overall and first in their current division.

Assistant Superintendent Linda Savastano announced the award of a federal McKinney-Vento Grant of $49,000 to the district to assist with student transportation and to help those lacking resources to meet state standards.

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